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Hifuu Club Investigations No.1 - Chapter 2: Surprised Awakening

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Chapter 2: Surprised Awakening

That night, in my dream, I was wandering down a road made of blue glass tiles, floating in an eerie black starry void. It was slightly chilly, and I wished I'd been wearing something warmer than my nightgown. As I walked, I saw an odd-looking red-walled mansion at the end of the road, with three women and a large tortoise standing around in front.

"... certainly been a long time since you've caused enough trouble to get the Hakurei Shrine Maiden's attentions, eh, Kazami?" That was an older graying woman in her sixties, wearing a black high-collar cape, and a black hat with a white ribbon around it. She looked slightly familiar, and then I realized in the dream that she must have been Usami Renko's great-aunt Sumireko.

She was speaking to a green-haired woman in red gingham; the woman seemed old enough to be an adult, but for some reason, I couldn't really get a handle on how old she was. "I just got completely bored," she said languidly. "Gensokyo's youkai have become toothless in recent years, nobody's afraid of us now." In the dream, I wondered whether I should translate it into English as something like "The Land of Illusion's monsters", or whether it would be better just to leave it as the transliteration. "That said, I'm afraid I'm disappointed," she continued. "It was nothing like fighting Hakurei Reimu."

"Well anyone would come up short if you compared them to Reimu," said the other, a girl in her late teens with long jet-black hair, dressed in the traditional robes of a Shinto shrine maiden. She suddenly let out a great big yawn. "... ugh, jeez ... How can you even get up this early, Sumireko?"

Sumireko chuckled. "Oh, Miyume, you can get used to anything if you do it for enough decades," she said. "Chalk it up to systematically destroying my own sleep schedule when I was your age."

"In most cases, any Incident which requires your attention can wait until daytime, Miss Hakurei," said an old man's voice. I tried to figure out who was talking, and realized it was the tortoise. Which I then noticed had a bushy white beard. "Kazami Yuuka's ... prank this morning was merely an exceptional case."

"Oh, you flatter me, old man!" said Yuuka, smiling sweetly.

Miyume grumbled, then yawned again. "Can we head back to the Shrine?"

"Righto," said Sumireko. "Some of us still sleep from time to time."

"I'd say 'from time to time' is the root of your problem, Usami," said Yuuka. She looked sidelong at Miyume. "But perhaps the Shrine Maiden will be more fun once she can bring her goddess into the fight, and when she's fully-rested," she added sweetly.

"Don't you dare!" growled Miyume, as she started climbing onto the tortoise's back. "If you — hm?" She looked directly at me. "Who's that?"

I was suddenly the center of everyone's attentions. I smiled nervously, and waved. "Hello," I said softly.

"Looks like someone's astral-projecting," said Sumireko. "Probably in her sleep, too, judging by that nightgown. Though ... she doesn't seem as aware of things as when I was fifteen."

I frowned. Wait ... "fifteen"? Hadn't that been when ...?

"Hm, I've met her before," said Yuuka, smiling towards me. "Though I'd be interested to learn how the hell she managed to astral-project into Mugenkan."

But I was too busy staring at Sumireko. It was! Was this the real Usami Sumireko? I fought to keep from waking up. If she'd been astral-projecting into magical worlds in her sleep, then —

I blinked awake.

I stared at the ceiling of my apartment, trying to remember the dream, but only a few scattered details remained. Between that and the sour feeling of adrenaline churning my stomach, something had obviously startled me awake.

I sat up, cursing under my breath, and fumbled around for my phone. 5:54 PM, much too early. Though that jogged my memory about a detail from the dream. Nothing for it but to put it in my dream diary, and then toss and turn for another hour or two.

"2065-04-03: Otherworld dream," I typed. "Usami Sumireko and a shrine maiden were talking about waking up too early." I stared at what I'd written. I knew there'd been someone else there, but I was drawing a complete blank.

I sighed, wondering why surprise always ruined my memories of my dreams. My instincts weren't as clear or coherent as Renko's had apparently been. But even as I had that thought, I was struck by the possibility that it was because I wasn't waking up properly. I turned the thought over in my head; even though I didn't have any rational reason for thinking there was a connection, the idea just ... seemed right. I wasn't waking up properly, so I ... it wasn't ...

Hmm. I was drawing a blank beyond that, too.

Well, that aside, that left the question of exactly what kind of boundary I was seeing in Renko's eyes. It wasn't just the boundary between dreams and reality, but I knew it had to have something to do with ...

... with the fact that they were always dreams of "another world." A world of fantasy. A world separate in principle from the rational, magic-free world I lived in while I was awake.

"Ohhhhh," I said. It was all I could do to resist calling up Renko that very minute.

We arranged a meeting at a small open-air cafe northwest of the main campus. Renko was five minutes late.

"Sorry, sorry," she said, smiling nervously. "You know how it is."

"Miss Usami ..." Well, it wasn't as though there were any stars out at the moment. I grinned, and shook my head. "Don't worry about it."

We made our selections on the touchscreen menu; I just picked the same type of green tea she had. "So, Miss Han," said Renko, "you said you had urgent Secret Sealing Club business?"

"Did I say it was urgent?" I said. "Well, I didn't mean ... urgent-urgent, but I think I've figured out what kind of boundary I was seeling in your eyes."

"Really?" said Renko, looking me straight in the eye as if she was trying to see something in my eyes. "Let's hear it!"

I regarded her eyes for a moment. It was only faintly visible, and I had to strain slightly to be sure I wasn't just imagining it. "Fair warning, this is going to involve a bunch of philosophizing," I said.

"I'm good with philosophy, Miss ... Han ..." Renko hesitated. "Uh, actually, is it all right if I call you 'Merry'?"

"'Merry'?" I said, tilting my head. That was a bit of a surprise. Back in America, "Maribel" had been short enough for most people, and the rest had gone with something like "Bel" or "Bella." I'd gotten "Mary" once or twice, but ...

Renko looked awkward. "Well, I mean ... I'm really sorry for screwing up your name yesterday, and I'm not even sure I've got 'Han' right, and ..." She laughed nervously. "It feels kind of ... overly-formal to be 'Miss Usami' and 'Miss Han', and ... yeah ..."

"I don't mind at all, uh, Renko," I said quickly, because she looked like she was about to run away in embarrassment. "I was honestly kind of feeling the same way about the formality."

"Okay, good." Renko grinned, looking relieved. "So, you were saying, Merry?"

I found myself grinning back. Uh-oh, was I getting a crush? Yeah, no, there was no way that kind of complication could end well, and I didn't want to ruin my acquaintanceship with the only other person I'd ever met with an unambiguously supernatural power. (I later learned that Renko was having the exact same train of thought, except with extra "I'm too gay for this!")

"So ..." I hurriedly moved my thoughts back on track. "The world that we inhabit, on the surface, appears to be a rational mundane world, where everything comes down to math, physics, and science. If there is something we do not understand, then that lack of understanding is an attribute of our own minds, not that of the universe. If you perceive that something is mysterious, confusing, or frightening, that does not mean the phenomenon in question has some intrinsic quality of mystery, confusion, or fright; that's what's called the mind projection fallacy. It just means that you yourself were mystified, confused, or frightened."

Renko was nodding along. "And once we understand the phenomenon in question, we no longer have those reactions," she said. "Unless it's something proven to be dangerous, in which case being afraid is reasonable ... but then it's no longer the irrational fear of the unknown, is it."

"Right," I said. I paused as a cylindrical serving-robot trundled over and carefully placed a tea tray on the table. "Now, even though you and I have seen evidence against this with our own eyes ..."

"And in our own eyes," Renko murmured.

I grinned. No, stop it, Maribel, you've only just met her! "... this is basically the kind of world we were born into," I continued, "and for most practical purposes, we behave as though this all one hundred percent true." I sipped my tea. Not bad.

"Well, I'd argue that as it stands, the supernatural is just another 'unexplained phenomenon'," said Renko. "Once we understand it, it'll just be another part of scientific knowledge, like Newtonian physics, or how muscles work."

"True, but hold that thought," I said. "Let us define this world-without-magic as the world of 'rationality.' It is separate from the world of 'fantasy', which is the kind of world with gods, magic ..."

"... and ordinary university students with supernatural powers in our eyes," said Renko.

"Correct," I said. "So, then, Renko ...the boundary I am seeing in your eyes, and the boundary which I always see in my otherworldly dreams, is the boundary between 'fantasy' and 'reality.'"

"I see," said Renko. "Interesting. And we live our whole lives in this world of 'rationality,' except when we see the things that we see with our eyes. And even then ..." She sipped her tea thoughtfully. "... the entire rest of our bodies are still in the world of 'rationality'." She chuckled. "We're not even treating this whole thing as anything more than a fun thing to do in an afternoon between classes, are we, Merry?"

"Guess not," I said. "But what can you do?"

Renko shrugged. "We could do some actual investigations," she said. "But you're right. I mean, I can't see anything changing either? Unless we do something that revolutionizes the whole world ..."

I laughed. "I wouldn't even want that kind of pressure or responsibility!"

"Me neither," said Renko. "Besides, we should start small no matter what we do. Got any interesting dreams to show me?"

"Oh! Now that you mention it, yes," I said. "Only half of one, though. I had this whole sort of insight this morning when I had an otherworld dream about your great-aunt Sumireko and a shrine maiden."

"Oh, really?" she said. "Were they fighting?"

"No, they were just talking about getting up too early," I said. "I think. That's the only thing I can remember, because something inside the dream startled me awake, and I looked at the clock on my phone and saw it was a little before 6 AM."

Renko nodded. "Now I really want to see your whole dream diary."

"It's got more breadth than depth, though," I said. "You'll definitely want to have me there in order to answer questions."

"That can be arranged," said Renko. "Wonder why you can never remember anything if you wake up suddenly. Shouldn't it be easier to remember, since you're waking up right away instead of slipping back into unconsciousness?"

"It's because I'm not waking up properly," I said. "That's what my gut's telling me, I took your advice about that."

"Got it," said Renko. She drummed her fingers on the table. "I'm kind of interested in poking at that concept," she said after a moment. "Um, hmm ... Are you familiar with the concept of meisekiyume?"

"Meiseki ...?" I hesitated.

"When you become aware that you're dreaming, and you can take control of it," said Renko.

"Oh! Yes, lucid dreams!" I said. "Sorry, I've only ever heard the phrase in English before. Yes, I can actually do it reliably, if I have a day or so to prepare, or if I realize I'm dreaming."

"Oh, that's cool," she said.

"Yeah," I said. "I actually tried to do it in one of my otherworld dreams once — I fell asleep at my desk, and someone in the dream complimented my clothes, and I realized I was wearing the same outfit I had when I was awake. I tried to lucid-dream then, but I was too surprised to stay asleep."

Renko tilted her head curiously. "Are you normally wearing the same thing in the dream-world and the waking world?"

"I almost never notice," I said. "But I pretty much always make sure I'm wearing a nightgown at minimum."

She snorted. "Oh, jeez, that's probably a good idea," she said. She sipped her tea, pondering this for a moment, and then a thought seemed to strike her. "One more question: can you dream about otherworlds deliberately?"

"I think so," I said. My instincts seemed to be a bit more confident. "Yeah, I probably can."

Renko broke into a grin. I grinned back as I realized where this was going.

"Okay. It looks like we've come up with something testable," said Renko. "The null hypothesis, the hypothesis that we're assuming is true unless the evidence suggests otherwise, is that this is a perfectly normal, mundane universe."

"All right," I said. "How do we test against that?"

"Well, we don't have to go overboard for our first attempt," she said. "I think a good starting alternative hypothesis to test for is that if you have a lucid dream of an otherworld, you'll become fully aware of that otherworld, and be able to explore it in more detail than you do when you're not lucid."

"I've never really explored before in the otherworld-dreams," I said. "Wandered, yes, but ..."

"Well, there you go, then!" said Renko. "I think we can come up with —" There was a buzzing from her purse. "Whoops, hang on ..." She fished out her phone. "Hello? ... No, Rikako, you in fact did not tell me the meeting was being moved to 'five minutes ago'. What? No, that was supposed to be Monday, wasn't it?" A pained expression crossed her face. "Okay, look, I'm at the Kanji Cafe, tell Yu— okay, okay, just tell her I'll be over there in about five minutes!"

I sipped my tea and did my best to smile neutrally, because I knew it wouldn't be very polite to burst out laughing.

"Okay, fine!" she said. "BYE RIKAKO!" She hung up and sighed. "I'm sorry about this, Miss Han ..."

"Don't worry about it, Renko," I said. "I'll see you later, then."

"Right," she said, and hurriedly swiped her student debit card on the touchscreen menu. "Bye, Merry!" She bolted for the exit.

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